Discuss These Essential Topics With Your College-Bound Teen

AUGUST 1, 2023

As teens go to college, parents and guardians must make decisions regarding health, safety and financial risks. Review important topics with your student prior to their departure to reduce stress and confusion in the event of an emergency. To facilitate a smooth transition, USI Insurance Services’ personal risk team compiled a list of essential steps to take before your child leaves for college.

Drug Use

Discuss drug use with your teen, especially fentanyl. Students should be aware that drugs laced with fentanyl increase addiction. Severe withdrawal symptoms occur after a few hours of ingestion.

Experts are concerned that students from middle school through college are being targeted by drug dealers. Fentanyl pills disguised as oxycodone, Adderall and Xanax are sold to students who do not realize the pill contains fentanyl.

The drug, stronger than the teen body can handle, can lead to an overdose. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has reported a sharp nationwide increase in the lethality of fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills. Specifically, the DEA Laboratory has found that, of the fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills analyzed in 2022, six out of 10 now contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.1 It is impossible to tell by sight, smell or taste that the drugs are spiked.

Parents and guardians should be aware that kids express interest in purchasing drugs via online social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, posting a series of specific emojis to signal their interest in a sale.

Health Issues

USI recommends parents and guardians discuss the importance of obtaining a power of attorney (POA) with their teens. If no POA is in place, healthcare providers cannot share medical information with you if your teen is over 18 years of age. A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release also allows medical providers to share medical information with designated individuals.

Mental Health

It is estimated that 49.5% of adolescents have had a mental health disorder at some point in their lives.2 Further, nearly 20% of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide, and 9% have tried to take their lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.3 

Be cognizant of teenage triggers:4

  • Achieving good grades in school
  • Wanting to soar in sports or other extracurricular activities
  • Bullying
  • Discrimination
  • Poverty
  • Not allowing time for rest, relaxation and unstructured fun
  • Anxiety around climate change or global conflict

If your teen is in crisis, you may see the following changes:

  • Mood swings, irritability or anger
  • Changes in sleep, weight or eating habits
  • Quitting activities
  • Withdrawing from social circles or community
  • Failing grades
  • Persistent worrying
  • New sets of friends
  • Drug, alcohol or substance abuse
  • Obsessing over personal goals
  • Self-harm

Mental health issues do not come with a one-size-fits-all solution. Keep communication open between you and your teen so you can be a resource to their recovery.

Safety Concerns

Together, create a plan for how your student can avoid precarious situations, what to do in an emergency, how to contact security and other safety rules. Teens should be aware that sexual assaults are more prevalent on college campuses. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), more than half of sexual assaults on college campuses occur from August through November. Eight out of ten sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.

Incoming freshman should be educated on how to report sexual abuse and how to seek help when needed. See the RAINN website for information on staying safe on campus.

Cyber Risks

Discuss internet safety practices with your student. Educate them about the potential dangers of hackers and how to protect their private information. Use USI’s cyber checklist and implement the following best practices:

  • Limit use of public Wi-Fi
  • Never share passwords
  • Do not access bank accounts or financial sites on shared computers
  • Install antivirus protection on all computers and mobile devices
  • Use strong passwords (minimum of 12 characters) and two-factor authentication when available

Cyber etiquette is also important. Inappropriate comments and explicit photos and material online expose the student and family to liability. The risks may include legal responsibility for libel or slander, as well as difficulty obtaining gainful employment in the future.


Consider keeping a teen’s vehicle at home rather than sending it to school with the student. Many colleges offer transportation options to and from campus. Keeping the vehicle at home affords a credit on the automobile policy (if the school is more than 100 miles away), which saves premium and reduces liability exposure.

If the teen takes the vehicle to school, establish rules before departure. First and foremost, no one is permitted to drive the vehicle except your child. If your child permits another person to drive the vehicle and an accident happens, the owner of the vehicle has the liability exposure, not the driver. Consider increasing liability coverage on the auto policy and umbrella policy to offset this risk.

Lack of sleep is common among students who stay up late to study or engage in social events. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, drivers 16 to 24 years old are 80% more likely to be involved in a drowsy driving accident. Further, teens contribute disproportionately to traffic fatalities, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Parents and guardians should stress to young drivers the dangers of texting or taking their eyes off the road to glance at phones. Teenagers are more likely to read, send texts, eat and listen to loud music while driving. Although phone use while driving should be discouraged entirely, you can help by investing in Bluetooth technology to facilitate hands-free calling.